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New Decisions
Jan 22, 1998

Dear Michael: At the beginning of this year I wrote to you of just some of the feelings I have as a person living with AIDS, in "A Renaissance of Hope."

It has been a time of many changes in my life and with these changes many new blessings, like being able to enjoy these blessings that have a far greater value then any monetary gift, or wealth. I was not able to buy many gifts for those I love and friends this Christmas season, and yet I feel, or should I say I know that I have had one of the most beautiful holiday seasons of my forty-three years of my life.

As I mentioned I am an adult student returning to school after 25 years of life and am attending a local community college. I will have just about one full year completed when our winter term ends, and will have acquired 28 credits. The community college I attend has a trimester schedule. This makes the term only about ten weeks and can be quite like being on a fast treadmill in regard to keeping up with studies.

I understand that I am not an exceptional student, and my upper math and science courses make me question whether or not I have the academic capabilities. This question has a tendency to render me feeling insecure about myself.

I am currently enrolled in a career decision making class, and I am sure it will prove to be a very empowering tool for my future.

What I would like to ask you is how do you do it. Your writing is so enjoyable and full of compassion. My question is if someone like myself who feels strongly compelled to a cause, and compassionate to all people, but however feels the challenge of a career in social work or psychology is a field to which I am so deeply drawn, my academic fears seem to go on the boil.

Do what you are they say, but sometimes I feel the challenge is just a bit strong for me. Then again, if one's life or mind is never challenged, their life is not going anywhere.

I wish to tell you how excited I was to receive your response, making it yet an other one of my wonderful gifts this year.

I have so many questions about my future as so many of us do, and I know that I can enjoy your writing in "The Body" as well as in other publications.

If ever you have time in what I'm sure is a very demanding schedule to meet for lunch, I would be honored to have the opportunity to meet with you.

I use to work at "One if by Land, Two if by Sea, a restaurant at 17 Barrow St., which is also an historic landmark in the Village, that was Aaron Burrs caragehouse. I have lived and worked in New York City for many years, but now am living in the Reading Pennsylvania area with my wonderful father.

Any trip to the Big Apple for a show or most anything is a treat for me.

By the way, are you a private pilot? Every time I see your picture at the beginning of your site, I can't help but notice you holding on to the wing strut of a plane, and one can see the tip of the prop. And I have wondered if you could be a flying enthusiast like myself.

Much love, and warm regards, Donn

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Dear Donn,

Thanks for all the kind things you said about my writings and how they have been helpful to you. Getting that kind of feed back is a priceless gift that encourages me to continue to write as it gives me feedback that what I say actually touches and has meaning to some people. First let me respond to the easy part of your question. That picture was taken a few years ago, on a vacation to Alaska with my partner a few months before he died. We had taken a "flight seeing" trip into a glacier bay and I was standing on the pontoon of the plane when he snapped that photo. I love it as it was a very happy time in my life with a wonderful man I adored, on the last major trip we were able to make together.

I was always blessed by finding most academic studies thrilling and not overly demanding, and thus began college secure in the knowledge that I wanted to become a doctor. In high school I had always excelled in the sciences and done tolerably well in math. Well let me tell you that in college I suffered a very rude awakening. I had to drop calculus as I just couldn't get it, even after having received an "A" in advanced placement high school math. I also never got more than a "B" in any of the college science courses I took. Thus I eventually realized that I was not cut out for a life as a scientist. I was just unwilling to spend the enormous amount of time studying and in the labs that would have been required if I was to just possibly be admitted to medical school. Switching my major to English was my first major adult disappointment. Sometimes today I wish that things had been different back then and that I had been able to become a physician. But as I am now completely content with my life and my professional path, it has been for the best.

All this is just to share that there are many paths to a meaningful career. Try exploring your interests in a variety of undergraduate courses that will provide you with a taste of the social sciences in order for you to evaluate if this is a direction you'd like to move in. I teach at a graduate school of Social Work in Manhattan. Not every student there is the very brightest individual, but each has a commitment to learning how to work with and be of assistance to other people. Thus whatever intellectual limitations you experience may not have to prevent you from moving into a career in human services if that is what you choose.

Regarding meeting in person some time, I am sorry to have to decline as much as you sound like a very nice person. I feel it just is not wise or practical to schedule such a meeting. If you hear about and attend a talk I am giving I would be very happy if you were to come up and introduce yourself to me in person in that environment.

You sound like you have achieved a good quality of life with much balance. The fact that you are aware of your multiple blessings shows that you are also wise.

Best of continued good luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW.



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